Red Guards … never actually “stormed” the Winter Palace: they, finally, had just climbed unopposed through unlocked doors or windows, many going straight for the storied wine cellars, history’s most luxurious. Each new Red Guard detachment sent to prevent a ransacking instead got drunk, too. “We tried flooding the cellars with water,” the leader of the Bolshevik forces on site recalled, “but the firemen … got drunk instead.” (Kindle locs. 4793-4796)Apparently there was a great deal of revolutionary drinking at the time:
With or without red armbands, looters targeted the wine cellars of the capital’s countless palaces; some “suffocated and drowned in the wine,” an eyewitness recorded, while others went on shooting sprees. On December 4, 1917, the regime announced the formation of the Commission Against Wine Pogroms under a tsarist officer turned Bolshevik, Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich. “Attempts to break into wine-cellars, warehouses, factories, stalls, shops, private apartments,” the Soviet’s newspaper threatened, “will be broken up by machine-gun fire without any warning”— a stark indication of the uninhibited violence. (Kindle locs. 5234-5239)Kotkin really brings out the “fractal” breakdown of norms in the early days of the revolution, and the “dadaist” character of Bolshevik pronouncements at the time.